1. What are oath rolls?
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, various groups of people were required to take oaths of loyalty to the crown and to the Church of England. Records that list the names of those taking these oaths can sometimes be used to identify some members of certain occupations, professions and religious groups. None can be said to include a majority of the population and it cannot be assumed that all who were intended to subscribe did so. Most surviving oath rolls date from after 1673, although C 215/6 and C 202/44/5 record the names of officers and men in the Royal Navy, arranged by ship, who took the oaths of allegiance and supremacy in 1660-1661.
2. The Solemn Association
The most comprehensive of these oaths was probably the 'Solemn Association' for the defence of the king and in support of the succession, established by Parliament in 1696, after an assassination attempt on King William III. It was compulsory for all office holders under the crown, military and civil, who were to take it at one of the courts of law. MPs, local clergy and gentry, freemen of city livery companies and other groups were also encouraged to subscribe. In some places, most adult males of status in the local community appear to have done so as well. Some names of defaulters might be enrolled. The surviving Association Oath Rolls, in the record classes C 213 to C 214 and KB 24/1 to KB 24/2, are largely arranged by county (England and Wales) and diocese (for the clergy) and include groups as diverse as members of the royal household, the tin miners of Cornwall, the nonconformist ministers of Cumberland, the militia officers of Northumberland, Irish gentry resident in England and the Quakers of Colchester.
3. Oaths taken abroad
The rolls also include oath rolls for 'Foreign Plantations' - the Channel Isles, certain colonies (Barbados, St James City in Virginia, New York, Bermuda and the Leeward Islands) and groups of merchants in Holland, Malaga and Geneva. Many bear original signatures. Those in C 213 are listed in J Gibson, The Hearth Tax ... and the Association Oath Rolls (Federation of Family History Societies, 1987).
4. The Test and Corporation Acts
After 1660, official policy to exclude Roman Catholics and the more extreme Protestant Nonconformists from holding official positions led to the Corporation Act of 1661, which prohibited the election to local government office in a city or corporation of anyone who would not take the sacrament of Holy Communion at a Church of England service, and then the Test Act of 1672 which required all those taking up an official post, civil or military, to submit a sacrament certificate that they had taken Holy Communion. The test was not abolished until 1828 when a declaration was substituted (declarations for 1828-1841 are in C 214). All such office-holders were also to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Between 1689 and 1702, the requirement to take the oaths and test was extended to beneficed clergy, members of the universities, lawyers, schoolteachers and preachers.
5. Oaths to uphold the succession
The Security of Succession Act of 1702 introduced the oath of abjuration whereby all officials had to deny the right of the son of the exiled James II to succeed to the throne. These oaths were taken in open court, either at one of the central law courts of Chancery or King's Bench (or Common Pleas or Exchequer after 1702) or the local court of Quarter Sessions and sacrament certificates had to be submitted at the same time. After 1723, Quakers, who were opposed to all oath-taking, were allowed to take a special affirmation of loyalty and, after the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, Roman Catholics were also allowed to take the oath of allegiance. Some returns of Roman Catholics taking oaths are in PC 1 and certificates of those refusing to take the oath in the 1714 Security of the Sovereign Act are in C 203.
The Chancery series of oath rolls of allegiance, test and abjuration are in the record classes C 214 to C 215 and there are also lists of names of persons taking these oaths from 1673 to 1709 in C 220/9; the King's Bench series is in KB 24; and the Exchequer series is in E 169. The Common Pleas series, in CP 37, only contains two rolls - one of Roman Catholics (1778-1829) and one of clergymen (1789-1836). An individual office-holder might have taken the oath before any of these courts or none of them. They are arranged chronologically and there are no indexes of names. Some bear original signatures of those taking the oaths. The Exchequer series is arranged by type, including oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration and declarations (1715-1857); oaths by Roman Catholics (1778-1857) and a few Quaker affirmations from 1723. KB 18 contains a list of Lancashire Roman Catholics, c 1723, who had been summoned to take the oath of allegiance but had failed to appear.
6. Oaths taken by lawyers and judges
Oaths taken by lawyers wishing to practise in a particular court may be found with the records of that court. After 1791 Roman Catholics were allowed to practise as lawyers after making a declaration and oath and their names are normally enrolled separately.
Quakers may also have their own series of rolls. Those for Chancery are in C 214 and C 217; for Common Pleas in CP 10; for the Exchequer in E 3; E 169 and E 200; for King's Bench in KB 24 and KB 113; and for the Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster in CHES 36, DURH 3 and PL 23 respectively. After 1868, the Promissory Oaths Act substituted new forms of oath or affirmation.
From 1868, the Barristers Rolls in KB 4, signed by barristers wishing to practise in the courts, act as an official register of members of the Bar. KB 24 also contains judicial oaths of High Court judges, recorders and magistrates from 1910, indexed by name. Rolls of oaths sworn by the great officers of state before the clerk of the crown, from 1639, are in C 193/9 and C 184.
7. What are Sacrament Certificates?
These certificates record where and when Holy Communion was taken and the names of the clergymen, churchwarden and two witnesses. Those submitted to Chancery, King's Bench and Exchequer are respectively in the record classes C 224, KB 22 and E 196. The Chancery and King's Bench series are arranged chronologically but the Exchequer series are also arranged by parish. Most, though by no means all, related to persons living within a 30 mile radius of London and Westminster - Middlesex, Hertfordshire, Surrey and Kent. Those submitted to the Chester Palatinate Court are in CHES 4 for the period 1673-1768. None are indexed by name. Quarter Sessions records are normally held by local record offices and may include both oath rolls and sacrament certificates.
Between 1708 and 1711 only, foreign Protestants could become naturalised by taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy in court and producing a sacrament certificate - the enrolled records in KB 24/2 and E 169/86, as well as some from Middlesex Quarter Sessions (none were enrolled in Chancery) are indexed by name in Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, vols XXVII (1923) and XXV (1932).